The powerful exhibition aims to open up conversations about real experiences of abortion in the UK.
Despite the fact that one third of women in the UK will have an abortion within their lifetime, abortion remains a topic often shrouded in shame and secrecy.
In England, Scotland, and Wales, the Abortion Act makes it possible to have an abortion at up to 23 weeks, however in Northern Ireland, legal access to abortion is limited.
Over 200,000 abortions take place in England and Wales every year, so the creation of a safe space for people to share their abortion experiences, good and bad, has become increasingly important since the pandemic.
My Body My Life is a powerful exhibition that aims to bring real stories of abortion into the open. The public engagement project illustrates how an unplanned pregnancy is a part of so many people’s lives, how different people have made their decision about having an abortion, and what the process was like for them.
“Our hope is that by creating a space in which everyone can share their stories, the project will contribute to opening up conversations about real experiences of abortion – positive and negative – to enable us all to speak, to listen, and to understand without judgment,” explain the organisers on their website.
Previously an in-person pop up, the project has now moved online due to the pandemic. But nonetheless, throughout lockdown, on top of loneliness, financial instability and limited access to healthcare, particularly in-person abortion treatment, My Body My Life has provided an important outlet and support system for thousands of people. And the stories of real women’s experiences makes for extremely powerful reading.
“Please know: it’s OK to be OK. Abortion should be a rational choice and if you’re NOT feeling wracked by guilt, that just proves you’re doing the right thing. Covid, with lockdown and economic chaos, made my choice even firmer,” one entry reads.
“I knew straightaway that I would want an abortion, I’ve always known my whole life that I didn’t want children. I didn’t know anything about abortion and the only stories I could find were from people who talked about regret and an awful experience. I wanted to talk to someone with a more normal experience, someone to tell me that I would be fine. It was a rough ride, but honestly once it was over I felt nothing but relief, and I could go through the same process 20 times and make the same decision every time,” explains another.
Another anonymous woman shares simply: “My abortion story would make me a criminal in my home country.”
Women’s stories are also coming to life in moving video essays, performed by actors but based on real submissions to the project.
“We know from our research that some women feel isolated and internalise abortion stigma,” the project’s curators, Professor Lesley Hoggart and Dr Victoria Newton from the Open University, tell Stylist. “We also know, however, that this is not universal and is not inevitable. Abortion stigma is resisted and challenged, and by bringing abortion experiences into the open, My Body My Life helps challenge isolation and stigma.”
“We have had fantastic responses to the project, with many people saying they have felt able to talk about their abortions for the first time.”
Marie Stopes provides abortion support and advice through their 24 hour helpline on 0345 300 8090.